This dissertation examines the performance of racial identity in the long-running, fantastical multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft (WoW) and its role in shaping digital embodiment, guiding player conduct, and maintaining white racial hegemony in the virtual play space. As a space where players devise, build, and perform digital characters to play fictional scenarios, WoW is the world's largest form of participatory theatre. While this space provides a form of immersive escapism, it also asks players to emotionally invest in a narrative that reactivates the problematic racial imaginary of 19th century imperial modernity. Through the methodologies of cultural criticism and autoethnography, this dissertation investigates three components of WoW's gaming environment: the narrative devices that shape a player's avatarial identity, the process of embodying a gendered and racialized virtual character, and the structural design of a gaming system that encourages players to perform white, heteronormative, hypermasculine, and neoliberal capitalist behaviors online or acquiesce to operating within a space that defines itself along such lines. The project focuses on the development of racially coded and narratively complex virtual bodies and analyzes how avatarial embodiment shapes player perceptions of self, race, and gender online. It relies on the concept of the interaction continuum, a term that describes the overlap between the social, virtual-active, and real worlds that form the game space, and stresses the importance of online sociality as the locus of the game's value. This study also utilizes the concept of governmentality to describe how the game designers structure knowledge of and about WoW's citizenry such that small player populations govern themselves, but within the strictures of the game's digital code and the context of its fantastical yet whitewashed narrative. My analysis demonstrates that ludic online culture not only shapes player behavior in the role-playing space of a game, but also alters how players interact with one another in less narrative virtual social spaces.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. December 2014. Major: Theatre Arts. Advisor: Margaret Werry. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 210 pages.
Johnson, Kimi Diana.
Here be dragons: performing virtual embodiment, social conduct, and racial imaginaries in World of Warcraft.
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